In an attempt to generate awareness of racial issues on campus, the African American Society (Af-Am) put up a Bias Incident Display in Smith Union on Friday, November 20. The display—a poster with stories of student experiences—aims to bring to light the often under-discussed and overlooked microaggressions that minority groups are subject to routinely at Bowdoin. 

The idea for the display originated when Mariam Nimaga ’17, a member of the Af-Am board and head of Af-Am’s Activism Committee, attended a meeting with President Clayton Rose, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster and other Af-Am board members as well as leaders from various multicultural groups on campus. The meeting was held in response to October’s “Gangster Party” incident and the campus-wide discussions surrounding race that followed. 

“People shared their stories, and these were stories I didn’t know about, Rose didn’t know about and Foster didn’t know about,” said Nimaga. “I realized that people’s stories should be known.”

The stories display a range of reports of race, religion and sexuality-based offenses both on and off campus.

“I’m hoping that this [display] will expose to students, faculty and staff that students are going through these bias incidents. Even though they might not report it, it’s still happening on campus,” said Nimaga.

While some stories recount various slurs shouted from passing cars in Brunswick, others tell of bias incidents among students, staff and faculty. One story describes an encounter when a white staff member asked a black student whether or not the use of the n-word in a song was appropriate. The student said no, and the staff member sang the song regardless.

Two of the stories report Bowdoin Security stopping and questioning students of color and requesting to see their student IDs while the students were on campus. 

Another recounts a sexual encounter during which the author felt “fetishized and unsafe” because the man she was with would repeatedly ask her if she were a lesbian, as he had seen her name on the OutPeers list. 

“I repeatedly told him no…[he] was fixated on my queerness,” the story read. 

One story explained, “Telling the stories and incidents that have happened to me on campus cannot begin to describe the pain I feel inside.”

This display is the first of its kind at the College. Each story was anonymously submitted through a survey that Nimaga shared with members of Af-Am, the Women’s Resource Center, the Africa Alliance and the College’s multicultural coalition.     

“These students are probably not comfortable reporting them, or they just deal with them because they happen so often,” said Nimaga. 

The Bias Incident Display will be up in the Union for three weeks. 

“A lot of students do feel that here at Bowdoin, we’re just studying, everything is great, but these things do happen,” Nimaga said.

The display was not the College’s only response to bias incident events on campus. The College’s Bias Incident Group, composed of students and faculty and chaired by Rose, is now working to outline specific procedures for how the school can most appropriately respond to different types of bias incidents. According to an email from the group sent to students, faculty and staff on November 24, the group plans to define this protocol within the first two weeks of the spring semester. 

All members of the Bowdoin community are encouraged to send ideas and comments for the Bias Incident Group to before winter break. The group plans to have a proposal for bias incident protocol in the first two weeks of the new semester.